Emmanuel Macron’s comments about Taiwan have put him at loggerheads with some prominent American foreign policy voices. It’s natural for American readers (and lawmakers) to see Macron’s comments as desiring independence from U.S. influence — especially since Europe depends heavily on American security guarantees (via NATO, for instance) and the presence of U.S. forces on the continent.

A conversation about European “strategic autonomy” from a military perspective seems almost surreal at a time when few NATO countries in Europe are meeting the alliance’s self-imposed goals of spending at least two percent of gross domestic product on defense. Most aren’t expected to do so by 2024, the time frame they agreed to at their 2014 summit. And it’s impossible to imagine a purely European Union-driven military response to Russia’s expanded war in Ukraine.

Macron warns he doesn’t want to get locked in a “bloc versus bloc” dynamic with the United States on one side and China on the other, and said Europe must not get caught up in “crises that would not be ours.” And that’s where Macron got into some trouble. “Is it in our interest to see an acceleration [of tensions] on Taiwan? No,” he said. “The wors[t] thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the U.S. agenda and a Chinese overreaction.” And, he underlined, “Europeans cannot resolve the crisis in Ukraine; how can we credibly say on Taiwan, ‘watch out, if you do something wrong we will be there’? If you really want to increase tensions that’s the way to do it.”

Macron seemed to be making the United States and China moral equivalents here. And he expressed no particular sympathy for Taiwan in the face of threats from Beijing, which has declared itself “ready to fight” after three days of large-scale military exercises around the island.

Many analysts and politicians in Europe and the USA question the timing of Macron’s remarks when Washington is investing billions in European security through its support to Ukraine and when Western unity is seen as particularly important

For Ivo Daalder, foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama and former ambassador to NATO Macron doesn’t want Europe to get “caught up in crises that are not ours,” like Taiwan. But he is perfectly fine with relying on US security commitments to address crises like Ukraine in Europe. That’s not “strategic autonomy.” That’s strategic nonsense.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also had some blistering words for Macron’s take on Taiwan, a democratically self-governed island Beijing has vowed to take over, by force if necessary. “Maybe we should basically say ‘we’re going to focus on Taiwan and the threats that China poses and you guys handle Ukraine?’ If our allies’ position, if in fact Macron speaks for all of Europe, and their position now is they’re not going to pick sides between the US and China over Taiwan, maybe we shouldn’t be picking sides either?”

Bottom line: Macron is often disruptive as a political leader, but he is out of touch and frequently overconfident in his own ability to influence others. He doesn't measure the immediate political impact of his words. It's his personality and there is an element of ego. He's convinced that he understands better than diplomatic and experts who are working on these issues every day. 

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